Monday, April 9, 2012

Looking Behind The Paper At Le Salbuen on Walnut Street Montclair

Walnut Street in Montclair will soon welcome another "must-visit" foodie destination when John David and Christina Salierno open Le Salbuen Café Market later this spring.

By now the attractively papered windows, featuring vintage utensils stenciled on kraft paper have been on just about every local media outlet’s food page. Residents of the neighborhood report that gawkers have been spotted with their faces pressed up against the glass in an attempt to see just what’s going on inside. But only I was given access.

I recently had the chance to go inside and talk to the owners about the space, their plans, and their passion for food and what we found out had us wanting more!

John’s passion for food started when he was a child. His grandmother was a housekeeper in England before coming to America . That experience, cooking for others, started a family tradition about which she most surely would be proud. Her pancakes were the first dish he made, that led to him expanding  his culinary experience by cooking breakfasts for himself daily starting at the age nine. Over the years John explored the world of food, using Zagats guides and travel as sources of inspiration to recreate the dishes that could be considered culinary travelogues of places near and far.

Christina’s passion for food comes from her Portuguese heritage, but she’ll be the first to stop any food writer from calling LeSalbuen anything but World Cuisine. Like many Portuguese households, the women spent a lot of time in the kitchen, tasks were handed down and in the process a heritage of flavors and techniques were shared with a new generation.  Having met John in High School, the two have travelled the world, exploring off the beaten path places to find the real culture of distant locales. Those journeys inspired her bring new flavors to her repertoire and eventually led to the Café Market idea.

Part of the fun of my inside peek into LeSalbuen is that I know some secrets but cannot share them until opening week. You’ll just have to wait, of course hints regarding those secrets wouldn’t be breaking any of the rules, right?

The original concept for LeSalbuen was to sell their own sauces and spreads. (Rumor has it that the Quince Paste is off the charts) That concept grew into the Café Market where packaged goods, some their own, some imported, would be offered alongside John’s own creations. Foodies in the know understand why Walnut Street is a great location, with Egan’s, Marzullo’s, the Bakeries and the Farmer’s Market it has some of Montclair’s best and brightest foodie destinations but John’s story is even better. While training for a triathlon, John ran down Walnut Street several times and got the chills in the neighborhood. He knew this was the spot for their project.

The space inside is interesting. When they moved in the floors were far from usable, remnants of old stable items were beneath the floorboards and the space was in need of an overhaul. Having a passion for restoration projects, the pair installed new floors, put in new sheetrock walls and even put in a brick wall comprised of repurposed brick rescued from demolition sites in Brooklyn. That passion for reuse is seem in their preservation of the pressed tin ceiling and use of salvage barn beams on the walls. As it comes together it isn’t so hard to imagine the fragrance of herbs and spices filling the air and wafting onto Walnut Street in a place that is both new and very familiar at the same time.

One of the hits at a Taste of Montclair was the Braised Duck with Carrot in Croissant. The dish included a radish and cabbage slaw with avocado and orange.  (Walnut St at Depot Square, mention of this dish always makes people ask “where is this?”) The other surprise hit was a Carrot Cake protein shake. Carrots and Carrot pulp combine with whey protein to form the base of this creation. Granola and raisins crown it. The kids at Taste loved it as much as the adults.

Here’s the best foodie news: John worked as a personal trainer for many years and has a deep understanding of eating well. Where other restaurants use butter, cream and mayonnaise, John knows that garlic, herbs and spices, as well as traditionally made sauces bring a lot of flavor to a dish without the guilt that usually accompanies going out to eat. Vegan dishes as well as artisanal protein shakes will be a part of the menu – running to the train? You’re breakfast just got a whole lot healthier!

LeSalbuen is slated to open this Spring. The exact date has not been set, but early May seems most likely. The Café Market is at 97 Walnut St at the corner of Walnut and Depot Square, right across the street from Trumpets and the Montclair Farmer’s Market.